Interpersonal connection is critical to a happy, healthy hybrid workplace. We’d even say it rivals "internet connection" as the most important type of connection you can have at work. Why? Because a connected workforce – one that champions caring, trust, and encouragement among employees – is more collaborative, engaged, and efficient.
But creating a connected workforce in the age of hybrid work is new (often challenging) territory. In a hybrid situation, some workers are full-time in-person, some are full-time remote, and others split their time between the two. The pandemic has made this arrangement incredibly common – 44% of workplaces surveyed in our 2021 Hiring Benchmark report have a hybrid model in place. Building strong interpersonal connection within your hybrid workforce is mission-critical. Employees with strong work relationships share ideas, knowledge, and nurture a healthy company culture.
Here are 5 key ways to foster connection with your hybrid workforce in 2022.
Create Trust Between Teams
Adopting a hybrid model requires management to lose some of the traditional oversight that the office provides. Avoid micromanagement and the desire to log your workers’ every keystroke. Instead, focus on creating clear expectations and measuring deliverable-based productivity. Show your employees that you trust them and that all departments are trusted equally. It’s incredibly important that hybrid teams avoid silos – both between departments and between in-person and remote team members.
Open the lines of communication and help employees connect with one another across your organization. Trust is built when people feel connected to and invested with each another. Create opportunities for both in-person and remote employees to engage with leaders at your company by hosting office hours or having an open-door policy with senior management.
Give everyone a chance to connect with each other as people. Encourage your employees to get to know one another with work-sponsored events and initiatives. And it’s important that these event be a mix of in-person and virtual ones so all employees have the opportunity to participate. Things like virtual water cooler chats, happy hours, and online games can help your employees decompress and forge friendships with their coworkers. And even if the time spent on these activities isn’t traditionally productive in the moment, it’s valuable in the long run.
That’s because having friends at work matters. According to Gallup, having work friends helps to keep stress at bay (a great way to reduce burnout risk) and makes people more productive. Just 30% of the 15 million workers surveyed had a best friend at work. But those with a workplace bestie are 7 times more likely to be engaged with their work, have better customer interactions, and generate higher-quality work than those who don’t. That’s because these social bonds improve self-esteem, increase happiness and improve our overall sense of purpose.
Highlight Success at Every Level
Regularly sharing the achievements of employees with the company boosts morale and motivation company-wide. The most important resource you have as an organization is your people. Recognizing accomplishments makes employees feel valued – regardless of whether they’re interns or senior staff. Appreciating hard work and effort goes a long way.
Consider creating a formal employee recognition program – organizations that use them have 31% lower voluntary turnover than those who forgo them. Setting up a program can help to strengthen your hybrid workforce’s connection. Especially when you allow both managers and coworkers to give shout-outs! A truly effective recognition program will have tangible impact, so consider investing in awards, compensation, and other incentives that employees receive along with their recognition.
A recognition program creates a more engaged workforce across the board. Workers tend to be both more engaged with their work and engaged with their coworkers – regardless of whether they work together in-person. By sharing the impact of employees at any level of the business, employees will feel like valued team members, rather than just a number in your hybrid workforce.
Make Your Culture Digitally Accessible
No one wants to feel left out. Make sure the key components of your company’s culture are as accessible to employees in the office as those working from home. Before the pandemic, company culture was usually a direct correlation to office culture. Perks like coffee, free lunches, pet-friendly offices, game rooms, mentorship programs, and happy hours worked to create engaged company cultures. But these fun perks have a major drawback in the hybrid world: they only really work in person and in the office. It’s certainly easier to build workplace culture face-to-face (we are social creatures after all), but it’s not the only way.
Let’s take another look at those often-touted perks. Coffee, snack bars, and free meals are an easy way to tangibly take care of the needs of your employees. Game rooms and happy hours allow employees to take a break, relax, and connect with coworkers on a more personal level. And training opportunities and mentorship programs reaffirm to your workers that you truly care about their career and professional development. Any of these perks can be boiled down to their true impact on company culture: employee wellness, work-life balance, communication, and a long-term investment in your employees.
There are digitally accessible alternatives that everyone in your organization benefits from – not just those in person. Consider adding a monthly wellness stipend, encouraging employees to disconnect when not working, or starting an online learning subscription. And this doesn’t mean to stop hosting happy hours. Just make sure that the key pillars of your culture aren’t only accessible to those who come into the office.
Listen to Your Workforce
And then take action. Different industries and organizations will grapple with different problems with their respective hybrid workplaces. Make sure to address problems as they arise. Implement anonymous company-wide polls where employees can voice their concerns directly to leadership. There may not be full participate immediately in these types of surveys. After you demonstrate that input is taken seriously (and that it leads to change), wider participation will follow. And more importantly, honest feedback. Studies show that just being given an avenue to air grievances is a valuable tool for creating a healthier work culture – but it’s even more powerful when employee feedback is taken seriously. Regular surveys are a key part of communication. And you’ll be able to track trends over time to see if new policies put in place are helping to solve whatever issues arise in your hybrid environment.
The way we work has changed a lot since the start of the pandemic. The shift to a hybrid workforce has been a natural adaptation. The organizations that have done their best to embrace these changes (and their challenges) have a lot to gain. 83% of workers favor the hybrid work model. Between its necessity and its popularity, organizations need to prioritize fostering workplace connection. Strong connections help build a more engaged, efficient, and enthusiastic workplace.